Monday, March 30, 2009

'King's Fool' by Margaret Campbell Barnes

Many books have been written about the Tudor England, especially about Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, but King's Fool is a special one. I write 'special' because it is written from the perspective of Will Somers, the Court Jester. The story starts with young Will leaving his widowed father to work for his uncle. It soon becomes clear that Will is a clever young man, who may not have much skill in farming but soon, through his wit and talent for clever jokes, finds favor with King Henry. And so the real story of the King's Fool begins. He lives through Henry's six marriages, witnesses the cruelties, harsh politics and injustices performed during the Tudor king's reign. He also becomes the most constant companion of Henry's and a confidant of young Princess Mary.
King's Fool is a wonderful book. It has everything a historical fiction should have. Ms. Barnes introduces us, in a very skilled and convincing way, to the whirl of the court life, the intrigue, all the dangerous scheming, and to England in the midst of religious and political change of never before known proportions: the separation of the country from the Catholic Church and Pope. With Henry's six marriages, two of them ending in the wives' beheading, the book reads like a first class action novel despite the fact that King Henry VIII's life is no mystery.
Probably the best part of the book is that Will Somers is really no fool. His life is no easy one and he really has to be a skilled diplomat in order to survive the intrigues others paid for with their lives. Many times he finds himself balancing on a thin rope but he, the court jester, of all people survives. I think the main reason for this is that Will has a compassionate heart and his judgement of character is not clouded by the need to entertain the court and the King at all costs.
Thanks to Ms.Barnes, we see the King's fool, not as an accessory, a mere clown, but as a loving, non-judgemental human being, who has his share of misery and misfortune. He is loved by King Henry VIII, princess Mary and his wife Joanna because they see in him a true and pure heart, and not simply a jester, who provides fun at the cost of other people's mishaps.
Special Thanks to Danielle J. from Sourcebooks for providing me with a copy of this book.